Page last updated at 16:17 GMT, Monday, 26 October 2009

Behind Osborne's bonus proposals

By Nils Blythe
Business correspondent, BBC News

George Osborne
"We do need the politics of common sense," Mr Osborne said

George Osborne wants to get tough on paying bankers' bonuses in cash.

But after so much has been said and written on the subject, is he proposing anything different?

The agreement reached by the world's leading economies at Pittsburgh was that a significant proportion of a banker's bonus must be paid in shares and be spread over a three-year period, with the possibility that part of it would be clawed back.

The exact proportion in shares would vary, but would have to be between 40% and 60%.

So, let's say an investment banker is in line for a million-pound bonus for this year (and, believe me, there are a lot of them who are), that might be payable as half a million pounds in cash and half a million in shares.

Little impact?

In the UK, the Financial Services Authority is going to review banks' pay-out proposals, starting next week.

Mr Osborne made it clear that his "no cash bonuses" proposal is for this year. And Mr Osborne is not chancellor this year.
Nils Blythe

It could take a tougher line than the G20 agreement, but there is no reason to think it will rule out cash bonuses altogether.

Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group - which are part-owned by taxpayers - will be under heavy pressure to limit cash bonuses for senior staff.

But that leaves Barclays and HSBC who both have significant investment banking operations in the City that could pay out large amounts of cash for this year's work.

So George Osborne's proposals could catch Barclays and HSBC, if they were implemented. But bankers at those establishments may not lose too much sleep.

In an interview for BBC Radio 4's World At One, Mr Osborne made it clear that his "no cash bonuses" proposal is for this year. And Mr Osborne is not chancellor this year.

Low lending levels

The bosses of UK banks might be concerned that if the proposal was pursued in future years it would put them at a competitive disadvantage.

Osborne: ''We need to tell bankers we are all in this together''

Mr Osborne was clear that the proposal only applies to major High Street banks.

So investment banks such as Goldman Sachs, whose bulging bonus pot has sparked much of the recent debate, would not be affected by George Osborne's proposals.

The underlying rationale for the Conservative proposal is that by conserving cash the banks would be better placed to lend to UK businesses.

But the banks have maintained that their low levels of lending are caused not by shortage of money to lend, but a lack of demand for loans from businesses - or at any rate businesses with a realistic prospect of paying the money back.

Although paying bankers in shares rather than cash would undoubtedly improve the banks' balance sheets, the impact on their lending patterns is by no means certain.

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